It felt like the Tigers let one slip away on Saturday night, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
DePauw led by three with just over a minute and a half to play in their second round matchup with Augustana College in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. However, turnovers on each of their final three possessions saw what could have been a win, turn into a 68-66 season-ending loss.
“I think the energy and the effort that we gave to put ourselves in a position to win the game was exactly what we needed to do,” DePauw head coach Bill Fenlon said. “We got ourselves in a position to win the game late and then we turned the ball over on our last three possessions and that’s not how you ice a game away.”
The Tigers had came into Saturday’s matchup in Augustana riding high over the last two weeks. DePauw was the winner of four straight games, including a double overtime win over Wittenberg University, an upset over number one seed Ohio Wesleyan University, a win in the North Coast Athletic Conference championship game and a victory on the road in the NCAA tournament over Washington University-St. Louis.
And on Saturday, they played like a team with momentum, until the final minutes.
“Well it's extremely tough to win a close game against a top 10 team when you turn the ball over on your last three possessions,” senior Tommy Fernitz said. “Part of that was due to Augustana turning up the defensive pressure which made it hard to execute our plays, but it also would have been nice to get a call from the ref down the stretch. I felt like the Augustana got away with physical play that resulted in us turning the ball over.”
Saturday’s game had a lot of similarities to DePauw’s first round win over WashU. Just like in that game, DePauw fell behind early and battled back thanks to threes from senior Connor Rich. After going into halftime trailing by five, they clawed their way back into the game. From there, the contest was highlighted by 10 lead changes and six ties.
Things didn’t get interesting until the very end. With four minutes left to play, DePauw held a 65-60 lead. The Vikings made up the deficit quickly, however, scoring on back-to-back possessions to tighten the DePauw lead to one.
After drawing a foul, Lattner went to the free throw line and converted on one of two attempts reestablishing the DePauw lead at two.
After missed opportunities at both ends for the Tigers and Vikings, a Brandon Motzel jumper tied the score with 39 seconds to play.
Adding to the pain for the Tigers, was the fact that they had possession in the offensive end with 10 second remaining. Fernitz turned the ball over, however, and senior Bob Dillon, committed, fouled the Augustana player.
Being in the bonus, Jawan Straughter headed to the line for the Vikings to shoot a one-and-one. He made the first and the second, to give Augustana a two point lead with five seconds remaining.
With no timeouts left, all Fenlon could do was watch as the final sequence played out for the Tigers.
Lattner took the inbound pass cutting right and encountered pressure from a pair of Vikings defenders a half court. After fighting through the trap, Lattner cut back left and headed toward an open lane. His layup, however, got stuck at the point on the backboard where the rim meets the glass as time expired.
“Luke did what any good scorer would do in that situation and that was get to the hole,” Dillon said. “Kid has been putting us on his back all year scoring the basketball and I wouldn't have had any other guy going to the hoop at the end of the game.”
Fernitz commented on the odd nature of the final play.
“It was very strange because I honestly have never seen a ball get stuck like that during live play, especially on a game tying shot,” Fernitz said. “If it didn't get stuck I might have had a chance to tip it in but the ball happened to get lodged in between the hoop and rim causing the clock to expire. Overall just a weird play to lose on and end my career on.”
In the end, it was Fernitz who led the way for the Tigers, recording a double double in his final collegiate game with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Rich also chipped in, shooting 5-of-6 from the floor and 66.7 percent from beyond the arc.
DePauw will enter next season with some question marks as they lose a senior class full of key contributors. Fernitz, Dillon, Rich, Frank Patton III and Michael Onuorah have all played their final games as Tigers.
“We have five seniors who were very emotional afterwards,” Fenlon said. “They’ve put in a lot of hard work the last four years and now they’re done.”
What’s next? If you ask Fenlon, he’ll tell the program is at a crossroad.
“It’s on their plate a little bit,” Fenlon said. “We had guys not play in the last two weeks that I think can be really good players at our level, whether they will or not, the jury’s out. I can say if they don’t get to work, they won’t.”